2 Weeks in the Himalayas and a Lifetime of Stories
I was just about to get some shut-eye on our four-and-a-half hour flight to Kathmandu when a line of glistening white caught my attention from the airplane window. I shoved the window shade open and squinted. Towering high above the plains and everything else below was the jagged contour of icy mountain peaks. Undeniably, it was the Himalayas.
This was the beginning of a dream expedition of sorts yet our plan flying in was quite simple: make it out of the city, find a way to the foothills of the Himalayas, and trek all the way up to the Annapurna Sanctuary, a sacred cradle set on the glaciers of a few of the highest peaks on planet Earth. As always, it turns out that nothing is ever that simple.
We stayed in Kathmandu for less than 12 hours before hitting the road again, but our brief stint in Nepal’s capital city tested all of our five senses. From the noise on the streets to the flavors on our plates, Kathmandu is an experience in its own right. The streets are narrow like mountain paths, with cars, pedestrians and vendors all constantly fighting for space.
But don’t get me wrong; there are enough sights and culture to discover here to merit a return. We indulged in dishes that were new but tasty to our palates, and the temples of Durbar Square, although still under restoration, were a sight to behold. The excitement seemed to begin before we even hit the trails.
The Annapurna Sanctuary is nestled around 300 kilometers west of Kathmandu in the heart of the Himalayas. Getting there is quite straightforward, but not really. From Kathmandu, we took a bus to the lakeside town of Pokhara. (Tip: stay a few days here - it’s worth the time!) It's 8 hours on an endless mountain road which likely has never seen a safety inspection. A window seat is worth fighting for as you might get your first view of the Himalayas.
From Pokhara, it’s another voyage by bus to the mountains of Annapurna, in a trip seemingly straight out of a NatGeo episode of ‘World’s Most Dangerous’. Never in my life have I seen a vehicle of this size plow through rivers, balance on narrow wooden bridges, and traverse cliffs in a game of life and death. When the bus comes to a stop is when you fully realize that the adventure is only beginning.
There is an intricate highway of trails within the Himalayan Mountains, so that it's almost always possible to get from one point to another via foot—as long as you’re willing to make the journey. In our case, our trek started from the quaint riverbank town of Nayapul, where the bases of these legendary mountains form. The first few days took us into beautiful mossy forests, through cliff-side villages and over hanging bridges. We often looked forward to meal times as it was a time to take off our boots, rest and re-energize. Simply put, our days became a routine of eat-hike-eat-hike-eat-sleep, repeat.
After turning a corner around a rice field, an imposing peak of ice cast its shadow on us below; my tropical eyes went agape in utter amazement. Even though we were easily still a handful of days away from base camp, these sights kept us going.
As we were gaining elevation, the environment around us started to change as well. Mossy forests gave way to alpine shrubs and the rivers led to massive glaciers. The enormous valley leading into the Annapurna Base Camp is dubbed as the ‘Gateway to the Himalayas’, and for good reason.
All around us were peaks of inconceivable size. Behind us was Fishtail, the sacred mountain that has never been climbed, and ahead of us towards base camp were Annapurna I and Annapurna South, two of the most feared, respected and largest mountains on the entire planet. Countless prayer flags were fluttering in the wind as we approached Annapurna Base Camp and we all shared hugs and tears of pure elation.
The sun started to slowly set behind the lofty peaks and the last ray hit the very top of Annapurna, setting the ice aglow in a fiery red. We knew that despite how far we had come, the mountains would always be there to keep us humbled and firmly in our place: as mere visitors and witnesses of their majestic beauty.
To get to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC):
Although there are many trekking companies that you could go with, a trek to ABC is very much DIY-able. From Manila, take a flight to Kathmandu. (AirAsia has affordable options. It's a 4-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, then another 4 hours to Kathmandu). From Kathmandu, take a tourist bus from Thamel to Pokahara, for around 8 hours. From Pokhara, take a taxi or a public bus to Nayapul/Ghandruk for around 2-3 hours. The trail starts from Nayapul. Trekking maps are widely available in both Pokahara and Kathmandu.